It’s no secret that women are seriously underrepresented in Japanese politics. According to Nippon.com statistics, the country ranks a shocking 156th out of 191 countries for female representation in the government, making up just 9.5 percent of members in the House of Representatives and 15.7 percent in the House of Councillors.
This year, multiple women have emerged as political forces to be reckoned with, though they remain the exception to the rule. Leaving aside their political stances (that you may disagree with), here are three of the most notable female bosses and how they’re bringing about change to the status quo.
Yuriko Koike: The Campaign Powerhouse
Despite Governor Koike, a member of the ruling LDP, making leaps and strides as a woman in politics, her male colleagues treat her like a leper. The former environment minister, her own party refused to nominate her as their candidate for governor, so she went behind their back and ran without their support. Sucks for them because she won, becoming Tokyo’s first female governor thanks to strong public support. Fun fact: two phrases she used in her inauguration speech, “Tokyo citizens first” and “athletes first,” were nominated for the Word of the Year awards, proving just how charismatic she really is.
The former environment minister, her own party refused to nominate her as their candidate for governor, so she went behind their back and ran without their support.
Her work isn’t over, of course. She’s left to clean up the mess of her predecessors: a skyrocketing budget for Olympic facilities, construction gaffes on those facilities and incompetence on the part of her colleagues from the previous administration — the list is long. It’s already clear, however, that she means business. Barely a few days in office and she made the confrontational decision to postpone the move of the Tsukiji fish market because of contamination concerns at the appointed site in Toyosu.
During her first interview with the foreign press just days after taking office, Koike stated: “We need to make it clear who’s making the decisions.” This is political speak for, “I’m governor now, so I’ll be making the decisions.” Her take-no-prisoners attitude towards her political goals is precisely what makes her such an intriguing and powerful player in Japanese politics.
Renho Murata: The Challenger
A young (at 48) woman as head of a major political party is rare, even abroad. A young half-Taiwanese woman as head of a major political party in Japan — even more so. With her recent promotion to leader of the Democratic Party (the country’s biggest opposition party), she’s been at the center of some controversy regarding her dual citizenship. Despite the upset, this former news anchor easily defeated her rivals to reach the top spot.
The Democratic Party has high hopes for Renho, a super smart, super tough woman who has held plenty of high-level positions within the party in the past. She’s stated that she hopes to create a party that is a legitimate rival to the ruling LDP. She’s got a tough job ahead of her.
She’s stated that she hopes to create a party that is a legitimate rival to the ruling LDP. She’s got a tough job ahead of her.
The Democratic Party’s legacy was spoiled by the Fukushima nuclear accident and the economic recession. Many say that is why they haven’t been able to shake the LDP’s top spot these past few years. However, with her spunk and attitude, Renho seems to be able to take on the challenge. With Koike as a possible future rival, could there be a future battle between two women for prime minister?
Tomomi Inada: The Rising-Star
A controversial figure for past comments regarding Japan’s role during World War II, Inada is a rising star within the dominant Liberal Democratic Party. She’s only been in the game for a little over 10 years, which isn’t long in politics. Graduating from Waseda’s law school in the 1980s, she started her political career in 2009 when she was elected to the Lower House. She then went on to head multiple committees (anyone heard of “Cool Japan?” That was her idea.) Inada quickly started gaining attention from colleagues and the opposition alike, many calling her “Abe’s Favorite.” In a recent Lower House budget committee meeting, he came to her aid when the questioning from the opposition party took an aggressive turn — you can only imagine the jeering that met him.
Inada quickly started gaining attention from colleagues and opposition alike, many calling her “Abe’s Favorite.”
Her rise is stunning, which has made plenty of commentators speculate where she might go, implying that her close relationship with Abe is evidence of his prepping her to take over. As defense minister, she has seemed to earn the respect of the majority of her male colleagues, but is it enough for them to let her through the door and into leadership candidacy?
A sign of changing times?
The one thing they all have in common — other than being pretty badass — is that their paths to political prowess were anything but easy (except for maybe Inada, but she’s getting her due hardships now, courtesy of the opposition). The Abe administration has repeatedly stated that it wants a Japan “in which women can thrive.” Could this be a sign of the changing times?